The gateway to Queensland's tropical north
Cairns is sunny, colourful, laidback – and right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef. Choose your own reef adventure – snorkelling, island-hopping – before going deep into the nearby rainforests.
You’re in close proximity to the lushest, oldest forests, rich in Indigenous culture. They’re bejewelled with waterfalls and swimming holes. If you love your adventure sports, you’ve come to the right place.
The tropical city has a cosmopolitan vibe, with a relaxed esplanade to stroll along, an urban lagoon to cool off in and a stream of fantastic cafes and restaurants, all showcasing that bright, fresh tropical seafood and produce.
Just north of Cairns, coastal villages Port Douglas and Palm Cove are home to palm-fringed postcard-perfect beaches, waterfront resorts, and a luxuriously relaxed pace.
Things to do: Cairns
Great Barrier Reef
Dive, snorkel, take a personal submarine or cruise in a glass-bottomed boat. Whatever your preferred discovery mode, you’ll soon see why the spectacular Great Barrier Reef is considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Seaplane joyrides, diving with minke whales, parasailing off remote island beaches, viewing baby turtles make their first dash into the Coral Sea – you’ll find adventure at every turn. Tour operators depart daily from Cairns, Mission Beach and Port Douglas, offering introductory scuba and snorkelling courses, motorised underwater scooters and more.
Tropical North Queensland is home to the Daintree Rainforest – the oldest rainforest in the world, and Mossman Gorge is the gateway to it. These ancient evergreen rainforests are steeped in Indigenous heritage. The cascading waterfalls, shimmering waterholes and stunning rock formations are home to a quarter of the country’s frog population and nearly half the nation’s birdlife, so you can imagine how magical Mossman Gorge is. Take part in a Dreamtime Walk to really absorb the Indigenous history then wander at your own pace.
Palm Cove and Port Douglas
Discover the coastal villages of Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Palm Cove is quiet and relaxing with ancient paperbark (Melaleuca trees) lining its esplanade, a tropical getaway in serene yet sophisticated surrounds. Port Douglas is a tropical oasis, an hour north of Cairns, offering worldly comforts with a disarming friendly village atmosphere. It’s a place of transformation, where people come to refresh, restore and revitalise in the aquamarine waters of the Coral Sea, the crystal creeks of Mossman Gorge and the palm-fringed golden sands of Four Mile Beach.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Venture deep into the forest onboard the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. A world first in environmental tourism, the cable-operated gondolas will have you suspended for either a 90-minute (one way) or 2.5-hour (return trip) tour above Australia’s World Heritage-listed rainforest. You can start or end your journey at the Caravonica or Kuranda. Better still, the Skyrail can be combined with other attractions (including the Kuranda Scenic Railway) for the ultimate half- or full-day regional tour.
Skypark by AJ Hackett offers 16 different jump styles including the Minjin Jungle Swing – a user-controlled contraption that allows for three people to jump and swing through the jungle, travelling 45 metres every 3.5 seconds at a speed of up to 120km per hour. There’s a bar and viewing deck for those who’d prefer to sit this one out.
Distance to city centre 7km
Taxi A taxi will cost around AUD $25 (plus a AUD $2.50 domestic or AUD $5 international airport surcharge), and take about 10 minutes to reach the city centre.
Rideshare There are dedicated pick-up points for Uber and 1300 Ride Share outside both domestic and international terminals. Just look for the signs.Back to top
When to go
Cairns is best described as having two seasons: wet and dry. The wet or 'green' summer season begins in December and runs through to February or March. The cool, dry winter season arrives in April or May and generally lasts until September. October and November, which are regarded as 'in-between' months, are the peak period for diving as the conditions are typically ideal.
Water temperatures on the reef range from 22°C (winter) to 29°C (summer) so there’s really no bad time to go. The same holds true for the rainforest, which is never more lovely than when it’s in full bloom. July and August offer the chance to see minke and humpback whales as they migrate up the coast and November marks the annual coral spawning, a spectacular sight.Back to top
There are several taxi ranks in the Cairns city centre, including a secure rank on Lake Street. Local Sunbus services cover the Cairns region from Palm Cove to Gordonvale, stopping at key shopping centres.Back to top
Cairns with kids: best free things to do
Cairns is all fun and sun and perfect for a family holiday. Keep the kids entertained without breaking the budget with these free, family-friendly ideas.
A budget-friendly guide to Cairns
With its knockout beaches and urban lagoons, you don’t need a million to enjoy this 5-star town!
The best things to do in Cairns
With so many amazing attractions in Cairns, it’s hard to know where to start. These are our top picks.
Best adventure activities in the Daintree
Hike, helicopter, boat, jungle surf (or even sleep) your way to true discovery in a rainforest more ancient than the Amazon.